I Think I Am Still Alive
Here is what will happen in the first year of the pandemic
It is March and I am standing behind the pine of the dive bar I work at holding a spray bottle full of sanitizer. I have cleaned everything I can think of that has ever been touched. The light switches. The doorknobs. The undersides of the stools. The skin of my hands is cracking from the frequency of antibacterial soap and I do not know it yet, but the smell of hand sanitizer will soon permeate every part of my life. Someday when I make lists of my olfactory memories, Clorox will fall somewhere between jasmine and whiskey, and it will evoke feelings of comfort and terror in a confusing malaise that will rise up into my chest in waves.
We are not wearing masks yet. We don’t know about masks. We don’t know much of anything; we just know that people are dying, or it’s just another flu, or it’s the end of the world. What we do know is that we are waiting.
It is March and each day we wait. Everything else we do is a backdrop for waiting. Waiting to know anything. Waiting for anything to happen. We have no language for anything that is about to happen. In a year, we still will not.
Entire aisles at the grocery store are already barren. Italy has already shut down. We are Americans, though, frontline servants to the gods of the Dollar, and we cannot afford to be alive as it is. So we open the doors to our restaurants and bars, advertising how clean it is inside. The sanitizer will save us, we think, and what we mean is, the sanitizer will keep the doors open one more week. So we can pay the rent. So we can eat. Each day we carry out these rituals. We pray to the gods of Sanitizer and we wait.
A week ago my theater company hosted a masquerade ball to raise funds for our annual carnival under a looming blanket of apprehension. The DJ did not want to come. Guests who had RSVP’d sent messages to tell us they thought it best to stay home. Our attendance was shockingly low. We carried on, aware that Seattle was in trouble, but Seattle was not here. Now I have a collection of photographs of paper signs hurriedly taped to the empty metal shelves of my neighborhood grocery store: Due to high demand this product is unavailable. Facebook Marketplace has become a black market for toilet paper and…